Home Run (Safest bet)
St. Louis Cardinals, on at 1.58, to win on the road versus the Pittsburgh Pirates.
This game on Sunday is a classic pitching mismatch. Cardinals’ starter Adam Wainwright is one of the best in the game at the moment. He was 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA in 2013 and was sharp in his first appearance this season, throwing seven shutout innings, while allowing just three hits and striking out nine against a good Cincinnati Reds offence. Throughout his career, he’s found a way to win in Pittsburgh’s PNC Park where he has a lifetime 5-1 record.
The Pirates’ Edinson Volquez is clearly not one of the best pitchers in the game at the moment. He hasn’t recorded an ERA below 4.00 since 2008. (Wainwright has never tallied an ERA above 4.00 in a full season during his career.) Last year, Volquez had a 5.71 ERA, and during spring training, he was 0-3 with a 9.64. Clealry, nothing points to a breakout performance here for the Pirates’ pitcher.
Squeeze play (Gutsiest call)
The Baltimore Orioles will score first in Detroit against Justin Verlander and the Tigers; consider it at 2.02.
It would probably be a bridge too far to take the Orioles to win in this game. After all, Baltimore hitters have a combined career batting average of .192 against Tigers super-ace Verlander. But there’s a good shot at the Orioles getting on the board first. For this proposition, Baltimore clearly has the advantage of batting first, giving them the first crack at a run. Moreover, J.J. Hardy (three lifetime homers versus Verlander) and Adam Jones (one career home) are among the team’s first three hitters. In other words, both will have a chance to punch one out off Verlander right from the start.
Why does this matter against such a dominating pitcher? Because, historically, Verlander isn’t very sharp right at the onset of any game. He owns a pedestrian 4.01 ERA in a game’s first inning and has given up 30 home runs in the opening frame (second-most of any inning he pitches). His opponent Chris Tillman pitched quite well on the road last year (3.34 ERA in away games versus 4.03 at home), which suggests that he might be able to keep a strong Tigers lineup at bay for long enough to allow the Orioles to get on the scoreboard.